GOP Advantage: Ben Nelson Retiring from Senate
December 27th, 2011
Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska announced his retirement from the Senate Tuesday, delivering a serious blow to Democratic efforts to hold on to the majority in the chamber next November.
“There’s much more that needs to be done to keep America strong. And while I relish the opportunity to undertake the work that lies ahead, I also think it’s time for me to step away from elected office, spend more time with my family, look for new ways to serve our state and nation. Therefore, I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection,” Nelson said in a video posted on YouTube, titled “What’s Next.” “Simply put, it’s time to move on.”
Nelson apologized to his aides during a conference call that word of his retirement had leaked to POLITICO before he had a chance to personally inform them of his decision. Nelson began calling top Senate Democrats early Tuesday to tell them he was not running for reelection.
Nelson wavered in whether to retire, according to sources close to the Nebraska Democrat, telling aides that “some days it was yes, some days it was no.”
He also said on the call that the “tea party must be stopped.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who also faces a tough reelection battle next year, sent a note to Nelson saying how sad she was over his decision to step down next year. McCaskill jokingly added to her note: “Nebraska still sucks.”
The 70-year-old Nelson was considered one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents this cycle. GOP-affiliated outside groups have already dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads bashing Nelson, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spent over $1 million on its own ad blitz to bolster his image.
The White House and top Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Chuck Schumer of New York, had quietly mounted a pressure campaign to keep Nelson from retiring. Nelson has more than $3 million in his campaign war chest, and his approval rating solidified after falling over the past several years. Nelson can give unlimited amounts to the DSCC from his reelection fund, Democratic sources noted.